November 3, 2008
My name is Ryan E. Poole. I was born in 1971 in Ann Arbor Michigan (GO BLUE) and I am a 37 year old African American male now living in Huntsville, AL. I lived in Michigan with my mother until I was 10 years old. As part of the first wave of Generation X’ers growing up in the north, I rarely experienced what I would call racism. From 1st to 4th grade, I had to ride the bus 20 or 30 miles across town by myself in order to attend a fairly integrated private Christian school. Because I attended a church sponsored school, politics was rarely the subject of a lesson. I honestly cannot even recall any substantive lessons about the struggles of civil rights or voting for that matter.
When I turned 11, my mom remarried and our new family moved to Alabama because of a Chrysler plant closing. Moving from north to south in the 80’s was a big culture shock for me to say the least. The lines drawn between races were definitely made more prominent in the south. One thing I distinctly remember seeing in Michigan was more interracial couples. As a teenager in Alabama, I remember hearing many more discussions about the civil rights movement but even in those conversations, there was not really an emphasis placed on the importance of voting from older blacks or whites. I am not sure if that was because the civil rights movement was actually more about equality than voting or whether it was just an assumption that everybody here knows that they are supposed to vote. At any rate, I grew up embracing a typical Generation X mindset that my vote really did not count, so why bother. However, my reason for not voting was not based on ignorance of the struggle or even the voting process for that matter.
While attending college, I remember many heated discussions with older people from the South, including my professors, about the importance of voting. I even devoted my free time to winning those kinds of arguments by proving that our votes really did not count or at least that we had no way to truly prove that they counted. The stock rebuttal that every “pro-voter” relied on, without fail, was that many people died for the right for black people to vote.
My response was, dying for a cause or right that was not truly understood did not make the cause any nobler, no matter how sincere the martyrs. One can imagine how blasphemous this sounded to those older black southerners, whose parents died in that very struggle. They spent countless hours trying to convince me of the error of my ways and came pretty close to stoning me after some of those “discussions.” It always ended with my challenge – “prove to me that my vote or your vote or anybody’s vote actually counts in electing the President.” No one was ever able to do so, so I never saw the point.
Years later, the fiascoes of the last two Bush elections only confirmed my position that our vote really does not count. Even before those two clear violations of America’s trust, my understanding of the Electoral College from a pragmatist standpoint gave me all the ammunition I needed. State ballots are designed to suggest that the voters are voting for actual presidential candidates. In reality, we are only voting for presidential electors who in turn vote for a presidential candidate more than a month later. You missed that, it will hit you next Super Tuesday. In fact, let me say that again… In reality, we are only voting for presidential electors who in turn vote for a presidential candidate more than a month later. While many states require that their electors vote as they have pledged, the Constitution does not require the same. The discrepancies in exit polls, the differences in electronic counting versus hand counting, the non-reconciling of ballots or types of ballots after the vote, and lack of secure storing methods all are points that cannot be disputed by pro-voters. In short, there is no viable or consistent checks and balances for the current voting process and therefore no possible way to prove that our votes actually count. This is what I actually meant when I said the people who died for the right to vote did not understand the process. Otherwise, in my mind, somebody would have suggested fighting for more than just the right to vote. They would have realized that they needed to ensure that the votes that they so dearly wanted to cast would actually count or at least gave the next generation the commission to ensure that they counted.
Think you vote to elect the president? Think again!
This is where the civil rights champions that make up the “Black Power Generation” for blacks or “Baby Boomers” for others, have failed the next generation. Winning the right to vote and to go “in the front door” and all the other important struggles that were/are in that train of worthy causes, became trophies instead of batons.
As one fellow Generation Xer put it,
“Our predecessors ran the race and then fell silent, choosing to leave the batons on their desks as trophies, or tucked them away in trunks for occasional viewing, or simply threw them in the trash along with all the other unconventional relics. Unfortunately, from your actions or inactions, the race was over–because you had achieved.”
Commercial Break over.
Now instead of being able to lead new struggles against injustice and inequality, we, the next generation, are in many ways faced with fighting the exact same struggles. Whether you are willing to admit it or not, they are the same struggles. They are just in different places. It is no longer Jim Crow. It’s J. Crow Esquire. No longer do our persecutors volunteer to wear white sheets for free. The same corrupt corporate system that so many of us are struggling to be a part of, pay them to wear blue uniforms and black robes.
Same person and mindset, different clothes.
The fight is not over entering in the front door anymore. We can go in the front door but if you live in Jena, you cannot sit under “The White Tree.” Rodney King was just one of the incidents that the mainstream press reported. Just ask the young woman who was hours away from becoming Mrs. Sean Bell. I could fill the rest of this story with commentary on the Genarlow Winslows and the ratings based documentaries that over simplify being “Black in America.” We have so-called “equal access” but at the cost of government kickbacks, tax breaks and incentives received for reaching those quotas. No wonder there are black proponents of getting rid of affirmative action. Wait a minute. Why are court-imposed quotas necessary anyway? The prison industrial complex and the disparities of sentencing are struggles that this generation were not educated or equipped to fight.
I got so good at refuting voting I did not even have to use the Electoral College argument. I presented a comparison of the bus boycott as proof. If you consider riding the bus as “the process” (voting) then not riding (not voting) is what actually changed the system. It was people, black and white, that banned together to not participate in the system that brought change. The response was always, If we don’t participate, “they” will put in office whoever “they” want, and we won’t be able to complain because we didn’t vote. But our current President is proof that who “they” want to get in is who gets elected or should I say selected. As far as complaining goes, “W” enjoys the lowest approval rating ever imposed upon a leader of the free world. What has all this complaining got us? Some statistics say that the most people in history voted in the last election and the result was four more years. Now, I am no statistician, but either we have been lied to or the voting system is seriously flawed. This, by the way, was my original point anyway. And don’t talk to me about free speech because saying the wrong thing about the President might get you labeled a terrorist, your accounts frozen and you end up at GITMO for friendly chats with the soldiers there indefinitely. Speaking of which, let us leave this topic.
The next question these pro-voters asked is, “Who is this ‘they’?” Then start all the accusations of conspiracy theories and the like. If you want to discount an argument you cannot win by logic or proof, all you have to do is call it a conspiracy theory and well, you know the rest. Like all my former opponents, somebody reading this will reason that the bus system had financial interests and the voting system does not. If that truly is the case, why is there a job called lobbyist? Is it not because they and the people, who hire them, have a financial interest in who becomes president? I mean record profits in the oil industry and multi-billion dollar, no bid contract awards to rebuild Iraq for Halle Burton should tell us something.
I do not know who this “they” is. What I do know after obtaining a business degree, is that in many ways, America is run more like a corporation or company than a country, and all the states are more like franchises or subsidiaries. From my short experience I don’t know any corporation that allows the general population of underpaid minimum wage workers or “the people” to decide who is going to run the company, I mean country. If for no other reason because they, I mean “we the people” would pick someone who had our interest in mind rather than someone who is primarily worried about the profit of the company, I mean country.
But wait, I wasn’t completely truthful. I voted for Bill Clinton the first time because I was so disgusted at the results of “Reganomics” and Bush Sr’s whatever you call it. In my own defense, this was before I studied the voting process. This brings us to the current election. It’s Monday, February 4th, 2008 or Super Tuesday eve. Although I am not a Patriots fan, I can only imagine the disappointment of withstanding 18 struggles and then when it really counts; not doing what was necessary to make them all count. However, that is somewhat how I feel about voting. After watching all the documentaries of the dogs and the burnings and hoses and lynching and the marches then hearing about people like Megan Williams, I come away heartbroken. Nevertheless, even after such disappointments, I am going to vote tomorrow in my states primary. Why? – not because I am even more disgusted with Bush Jr’s whatever you call it, not because someone has convincingly convinced me that my vote counts, not even because the audacity of hope says that I can play a part in electing the first black President of the United States but in a word, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
I mean honestly, what can having a black president really do for the average African American living below the poverty level? Today, as I hear how proudly some black people talk about the possibility of electing a black president, I am reminded of Nike’s master marketing move with Air Jordans. They never actually said it but they sold an entire world the idea that buying those shoes would empower them to play basketball “Like Mike”. It seems they have subconsciously been sold the idea that now we are all going to get our forty acres and a mule.
I have watched this presidential race more closely than any other one in my lifetime and I must admit that after hearing the “Yes We Can” speech, I was inspired to go vote. I mean that is a core Generation X value. We have been told we can’t do so many things that I think we invented the phrase “Yes We Can!” Okay maybe not invented but at least it became our banner of defiance. After what can almost be classified as shedding a tear or two after watching the “Yes We Can” song, I have to say, ad inspiration to my list. So there you have it.
Rationally, I realize my vote really doesn’t count in the way “they” would like for me/us to believe. Once in office, Mr. Obama will be faced with tough decisions that will call on him to disappoint many who voted for him. But who cares. Respect for what our elders fought and died for combined with the raw energy that Barack Obama brings into the picture, overrides my conscience objections, and literally forces me to HOPE. I reached outside of myself and voted for Senator Obama on Super Tuesday. If I vote again in November, and it happens to count for him, that is just icing on the cake. ~ i
© Copyright 2008, Ryan E. Poole. All Rights Reserved.
As featured on CNN ireport.